Life Technologies launches free online tool for instrumentation management

Life technologies, the global biotechnology reagent manufacturer, recently launched a free  online tool for the management of lab instruments. The Oracle-powered tool should facilitate the lives of whoever has to deal with the maintenance, user-management and scheduling of shared instrumentation in your lab. They advertise an interesting list of functionalities:

  • Instant access to the complete service history of your instruments
  • See a complete list of serial numbers, as well as software and computer details, for all of your instruments
  • Access documentation specific to your instruments
  • See when planned events, like scheduled maintenance, were completed or will need to occur
  • Track when your service contracts are going to expire or your instruments will come off warranty
  • Check availability and schedule time on your instruments from anywhere in the world

I havent tried it myself, and would love to have some feedback about the service. I can only say that a free online tool to facilitate researchers lives is a positive thing! This is obviously targeted at shared facility personnel or lab managers (that happen to make purchasing decision as well), but can be very useful to graduate students and postdocs that look over the lab’s precious instrumentation.

Crowdsourcing research: the uBiome example.

Sequence your microbiome with µBiome.

µBiome attracted my attention the other day since it’s a perfect example of how crowdsourcing and citizen science principles can work to the advantage of research. The Californian startup offers anyone to explore the composition of their personal microbiome. The microbiome is the community of bacteria living on and in you. This represents billions of bacteria living in symbiosis in our skin and gut for example, largely outnumbering in number of our own cells. interestingly, the microbiome seems to be related to many medical conditions such as depression or diabetes. Doctors could target your microbiome as a treatment or use it as a diagnostic tool to predict risks of diseases. That’s were µBiome comes in.

µBiome recently launched a project on the crowfunding site indiegogo, offering participants to take part in their scientific adventure. Not only do donors fund the scientific project but they also help validate the technologies by sampling their own microbiome. Using the data generated by the early adopters, µBiome will correlate information on the donors lifestyles or medical conditions with the composition of their microbiome. µBiome says that the crowdsourcing the task will allow them accomplish more than any other previous scientific study since they have access to limitless pool of samples. µBiome claims that with 50,000 users they will be able to correlate specific the microbiome characteristics with diseases such as autism and cervical cancer with .

This is perfect example of how in one blow, using the right tools a the right stage of their development  a company funds its project, validates its technology, and brings a new scientific area to the public’s (i.e costumers) attention.

 

A quick digression: Crowdsourcing for science! 

uBiome’s use of crowdsourcing is a great example of how powerfull online tools and communities are.  Researchers get most of their funding through private or public agencies, they publish in journals tailored for specialists and usual communicate their research exclusively with peers. Seeking help from the public to fund or help generate is pretty much a foreign concept for researchers. However, some are starting to adopt crowdsourcing to access computation time, personnal information or even funding. And they do it for a good reason, since crowdsourcing allows:

  • Easy access to a resource that is untapped, large, responsive and diverse.
  • To involve and inform the general public about your research.
  • To do all this for for a low cost.

New tools specifically designed for crowdsourcing research are developing rapidly. For example, here are a few funding-based crowdsourcing sites (crowdfunding):

Crowdsourcing is has a bit more history in computing since it comes from very direct technical necessity. Several well-known programs crowdsource CPU time for example:

These will be added to the static page regrouping a list of useful tools for researcher. You’re welcome to help by contacting me out if you know of other research orientated crowdsourcing sites.

Communicating your research online? ImpactStory tells you how well you’re doing.

So you’re now a confirmed research 2.0. When you’re not entering your latest thoughts in your research blog, you’re twitting them. You take part in wikis, your ResearchGate profile is up to date, your papers accessible through some self-archiving repository, you use Mendeley or CiteUlike and started publishing in open access journals.

Congratulations, you’re redefining  the way research is communicated! Surely with so much efforts to communicate your research to a wide audience, your work will have a higher impact. Right? But with only the good old citation number as the standard metric for impact, how do you know how impactful your research is in the research 2.0 era?

Measuring the impact of research is not an easy task. Several parameters should be taken into consideration. Alternative metrics would complement already existing tools. Image taken from http://altmetrics.org/manifesto/

This question was asked and discussed quite a bit over the last few years through articles, conferences and workshops. It became obvious that a new way of measuring research impact should be developed in a way that considers the new online ecosystem for researchers.  This alternative metrics has been named “Article Level Metrics” or “Altmetrics” (alternative metric).

 

ImpactStory is a perfect illustration of the current effort to develop such new methods of evaluating research impact. The service provides a global view of your research impact, combining both traditional and non-traditional metrics.  In addition to standard citation counts, ImpactStory evaluates how many users have bookmarked your articles in online reference managers, how many times your research has been twitted about or was mentioned in posts on blogs or social networks.

This collection of metrics put together in an intelligent fashion has the potential to emerge as a real alternative or complement to journal citation counts and impact factors. This type of metric is also more responsive than traditional journal article citations and could be a good early prediction for the actual citations an article will collect months or years later. It is also a necessary effort, since researchers are asked to share more, to be more open and pedagogical towards the general public, the incentives and rewards must follow. A true metrics of a broader impact must thus be established.

Of course, we are not there yet. And ImpactStory is an experimentation that needs your feedback. As a developing methods and the technologies that come with it, they have attracted criticisms. And indeed altmetrics in their current forms are somewhat flawed. For example the current methods are far from being absolute and quantitative , thus any comparison between articles or researchers in premature.

ImpactStory was developed by two academics studying and promoting alternative metrics for academic research impact. Heather Piwowar a postdoctoral fellow at Duke University and the University of British Columbia studying “research data availability and data reuse“. And Jason Priem, PhD student in information science at University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. Jason is credited for putting term altmetrics out there and an author of the altmetric manifesto.

Similar initiatives are also out there with a similar mission as ImpactStory. You can check these out:

  • http://article-level-metrics.plos.org/
  • http://altmetric.com/help.php
  • http://sciencecard.org/

 

ResearchGate takes over ScholarZ

ResearchGate, the 2-million user social network for researchers is taking over ScholarZ, an online collaboration tool and reference manager based in Würzburg, Germany. The acquisition was announced by both parties through their blogs and a press release.

The press release explains that “Scholarz.net will be discontinuing its services come January 10, 2013. The platform’s users are requested to back-up all files they have stored on scholarz.net and to open a new account at ResearchGate. A simple to use export tool has been provided.

This might be the beginning of what may be seen as a necessary consolidation trend in an industry that saw a great number of competing sites pop up over a short period of time, with many providing similar services.

Social networking sites for researchers

This is a first of a series of posts that will list the web tools and services specially tailored for researchers. The lists will be included in a static page as well.

Part I – Social networking sites

Social network sites seem to come in at least 4 different flavors: site that offer tools to manage your references, tools to increase your online presence and ease networking, tools to exchange and engage in new collaborations and more site that are specialized in specific scientific fields. Keep in mind that this classification is not exclusive since all have overlapping functionalities.

Reference managers orientated:
  • Mendeley –  2 million-user mark passed in 2012
  • CiteUlike – Sponsored by SpringerLink.
  • BibSonomy  – Initiative from the University of Kassel, Germany.
  • Connotea  – Sponsored by Nature Publishing group
  • Zotero – Great open source reference manager
Networking orientated:
Social exchange orientated:
  • ResearchGate – The 2 million-user academic social network
  • MyScienceWork  – Soon 5 languages for this European orientated network.
  • UnitedAcademics – Connects science to society.
  • Colwiz – Collective Wizdom from Oxford (UK)
  • Labroots – Pioneer int the science social networking site business.
  • BiomedExperts –  Bringing experts together
  • AcademicJoy – A more personal approach to research
Specialized social network:

There are probably many more out there. Please feel free to comment or contact me if you know of any that are not listed here.

Open access journals and social networks, same battle?

Open access journals have clearly a lot going for them. One advantage over traditional journals is their accessibility. No login, pay-per-view or university-IP needed to view the articles. Just Google-it! This also means more readers. And with such large audiences, open access journals are naturally tempted to build social exchange platforms to promote and bring additional value to their collection of published articles.

Several open access publishers have come to offer very similar features than dedicated social networking sites. Two examples:

  • Frontiers. They offer a personalized profile, networking functions, job and events sections, internal messaging, and the possibility to start your own science blog.
  • PLoS allows to comment on the articles and shows valuable metrics such as how many time the article was viewed and tracks any record of the paper on social networks (twitter/Facebook).

Social networking sites have a complementary approach. They focus on developing the social platforms while gathering as many references and papers as possible from external sources. So may the Elsevier and Springers rest assured; scientific articles are still the centerpiece of research. And with the exceptions of a few initiatives, the communication format remains what is was 50 years ago. However, the new online services  offer alternative models in the way the papers are written, published, exchanged and discussed.

With Open access publisher introducing more social and social networks strengthening their publication database and accessibility, I would bet on a great merger of services in the next few years. Open access publishing, reference management, articles sharing, networking and discussion boards could be gathered within unique tools. This could also be achieved through better interoperability between existing services.

 

Who’s on ResearchGate?

A very interesting post on the  Research Gate social website for scientists ask, “Who are the users of ResearchGate?“.

To this day, there does not seems to be clear statistical data disclosed by ResearchGate or any other research orientated social networking sites. This makes it hard to judge what kind of impact these sites have on research.

So, are these sites only populated by young technophile scientists?

Mendeley invites librarians to join the fun

Mendeley recently announced an institutional version of their service. In partnership with Swets, a world leader in content management services for libraries and publishers, the new service will provide valuable analytical tools for libraries and institutions, along with the usual reference-management and social networking features for researchers.

With tighter budgets and the competitive landscape research institutions face, live data on how researchers use library resources, how they collaborate and what they are producing is clearly valuable. This data could be put to use to better target journal subscription (which have been enormous and rapidly increasing budgets), favor collaborations and help show return on investment to the funding agencies and the public.

It is also a sound commercial move on Mendeley’s part. Institution-wide adoption of the systems will help go pass that user-number threshold needed for such social network services to work the best.

Presentation of the new service:

Sources: Swets press release on mynewsdesk.com

 

Labroots science networking site gets a new look – new features announced


Labroots, the social network for scientists has recently announced a major update of its website.

Labroots is a pioneer in the science social network. The site was founded in 2008, “with the goal of creating a destination where scientists could come together from around the world to share information and advance science“. With a steady growth since, it now claims nearly 500,000 users, over 250,000 posts and thousands of uploaded documents.

The new website includes design improvements and increased functionality such as facebook and linkedin integration, posting files and media, more referenced journals and a brand new “companies and institutions” feature. These new features enable users to share more and better than before.

Labroots aims to offer an all-in-one platform, where researchers will find all desirable features. Greg Cruikshank, Labroots founder and CEO says: “With the features we offer, most scientist don’t need to leave the website. They can search or post publications, join communities or groups for specific communications, there is an event and job board, we have a video library with thousands of videos, a review feature for criticism and promotion”. Labroots now seems well armed to compete with other major scientific social networking sites such as Research Gate.

Labroots’ effort to create a all-included service, reflexes well the current trend seen for scientific social networking sites. More than just message boards they wish to create a rich ecosystem, that could in turn complement or replace traditional scientific conferences or publishing groups for example. When asked about the future of the industry, Greg Cruikshank says he views social media essentially as a communication tool “just like email and cell phones“. Over the next few years, Labroots foresees that social networking will increase in functionality and associated features and will inevitably go mobile.

Sources:
– Labroot press release
– Written interview with Greg Cruikshank, Labroot founder and CEO